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I am extremely pleased that my two colleagues, Adam and Sue, and I won the BMA Doctors as Volunteers competition. We all volunteer for Tower RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution, the charity that saves life at sea). Adam and Sue have been volunteering for them a lot longer than I have, and have also worked at different lifeboat stations in the UK. I joined Tower lifeboats about a year ago, and I can emphatically say that it feels like I have joined an extended family. Commitment is required: volunteers work 12-hour shifts, day and night, and we do this a minimum of twice a month. During shifts, the bell can go at anytime, much like in clinical work, when we must drop everything, launch the boat and become alert to the potential situation facing us.
So, as I am asked countless times, why do it?
First, I have already mentioned that when you become RNLI crew, you are welcomed as part of a new family. The shifts are social as much as work. I love turning up to a shift, seeing faces I haven’t seen for a few weeks and catching up. Bonds are tight on station, much like in hospital. Part of this must be because of the intense experiences provided by the work involved. There is also a particular enjoyment that comes from working as part of a well-versed and skilled crew from diverse backgrounds. Currently, I am still new and I still make mistakes. But that is OK, it is accepted as part of the learning process and I do feel like I am learning and developing every shift that I do. The atmosphere towards crew development is extremely positive.
That leads me onto skills. Part of what led me to volunteer was my interest in learning seamanship. I was desperate to learn to tie all the knots, how to navigate, how radar works, how to maintain a boat. And I have not been disappointed! There is a great emphasis on development of skills: we train almost every shift. What is more, I have now started to pass on skills that I have learned to new crew, which is very pleasing to say the least. Much like in clinical medicine, there is something extremely gratifying about learning and implementing new techniques. There is always more to learn.
Finally, I have a particular interest in sports, event and pre-hospital medicine, so RNLI emergency care is perfect for anyone keen on those aspects. The pre-hospital nature of the care is particularly challenging: it takes some time to adapt to implementing medical care on a rocky boat, with minimal kit and away from the hospital environment. But again, this is why I joined. To develop as a doctor, and now, I am pleased to say, as a member of RNLI crew.
There is so much more that I would like to say, but I will leave it at that for now. If you are interested in volunteering for the RNLI, please get in touch with your local station. You never know, you may get lucky as I did! There are plenty of fundraising activities too, so please consider helping out if you can. You can find out more at www.RNLI.org
David Salman, Out.